At a recent conference at the University of Ibadan, a female undergraduate shot through the thicket to make her point. When asked later in an interview with Intervention, she gave a good account of her Department and of Political Science. A private secondary school in Abuja showed how much of the merit system is still alive here and there across Nigeria. Watching undergraduates in a Third year course unit in a private university also in Abuja cutting through running controversies in Global Governance has been such a hope raising experience. The curiosity and concern of the BUK Mass Communication students at the just ended Social Influencers’ Summit in Kano added to these flashes of brilliance to reinforce the thinking that Nigerian universities can be more easily recovered than imagined.
A huge gathering such as the Kano Social Influencers Summit is bound to strike at each participant differently. There are those for whom it was all about networking just as there are those for whom it was all about showcasing something that can be considered great that they are doing with the social media. Some participants came to learn or unlearn while some others came to take note of whatever caught their fancy. Both those who came with a singular agenda and those with open mind must have found something additional as well as something singularly fascinating at the end of the day, respectively. The academic performance of students from Bayero University, Kano’s Faculty of Communications was this reporter’s incidence of additional emotional attention.
The panel session in which one was listed to participate immediately after the opening session on the first day was unusually filled up. The reason for that was not immediately clear until it was time for Q & A. These students were not the only ones who asked questions but they were the more persistent set of interrogators and they raised the more controversial questions. That goes against the grains of the generalization about unemployable graduates attached to products of Nigerian universities. There is no question about it that the universities are in very bad material, academic and human resources shape. But what is required to get them back to what they were might not be as gargantuan as feared because systems die hard.
The issue under scrutiny was “The Role of Online Newspapers in the Fight for Transparency and Accountability in Nigeria”. Two persons associated with online newspapering emphasised the constitutional, technological and discourse features which provides the basis for the assumption that online newspapers can undo corruption in certain ways unique to it. But the students did not share the optimism. Citing observable excesses in online practice of journalism so far, they contested the optimism. Specifically, they argue that many of the online newspapers are owned or run by former political appointees. In other words, they are sensitive about the ownership factor in media and communication although the claim itself is not sustainable. They question concentration of attention on punitive rather than preventive coverage of corruption. They expressed the fear that the current crop of online journalists lack the moral and professional capacity to do anything positive about transparency. They frown at (online) newspapers’ attention to corrupt players without corresponding attention to anti-corruption agencies. And so on and so forth.
Dr. Aminu Aliyu, the University of East Anglia trained Economist and a BUK academic who chaired the panel supported the students. It was there in the way he framed his own question, using the power of the chair. It would not be unfair to say the presenters faced a BUK School of Mass Communication at the session. It was a very interesting experience. Hitherto, the Department of English and the Department of Political Science were singled out as the most stable departments in that university. Although this is a 1991 view from the top, it is not clear it has been ruptured before the rise of Mass Communications from a nomadic department to a whole Faculty. It used to be in the Faculty of Arts and Islamic Studies, (FAIS) before being moved to the Faculty of Social and Management Sciences, (SMS).
To be sure, the Department of Mass Communications in BUK started as a star studded place, what with scholars such as D. Abubakar Abdullahi, Dr. Gladstone Yearwood, Prof Mike Egbon, Prof Chris Onunkwo and many others, especially a Cameroonian who is publishing heavily today somewhere in South Africa or Europe. Even then, nothing appear comparable to what appears to be happening today when it is a faculty to itself. To be sure, it has not established a clear scholarly tradition that is identifiable or unique to BUK. That is likely to take many more years. But it would seem to have ignited something, given the ability of those students at the Social Influencers Summit to listen to the presenters, raise and pose the questions they posed. It is ever exciting to see that happen anywhere.
What is not clear is whether Mass Communications and/or other departments have risen to destabilize the primacy claimed for departments such as English and Political Science. The Department of English in Bayero University, Kano has had the fortune of being an extremely balanced Department, what with the Saleh Abdus leading the conservative camp while the Ibrahim Bello Kanos lead the radical camp. One stands to be corrected but, apart from the University of Ibadan, BUK’s Department of English is one of the few that has had the advantage of a poststructuralist academic on ground for the past 30 years or so. Yes, there is Tanimu Abubakar in ABU, Zaria, now a professor but Tanimu is a Marxist critic, not a card carrying poststructuralist like IBK in BUK. At the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ibadan, Prof Sola Olorunyomi is not a poststructuralist scholar in the sense that he has gone beyond the level to be pigeonholed in any theoretical homestead. Otherwise, he has domesticated poststructuralism in a wonderful way. At the Obafemi Awolowo University, Prof Chijoke Uwasomba is but a hesitant poststructuralist. He is still unable to make the transition. So, when a former Vice-Chancellor of BUK once said that the Department of English is a great place to be, he knew what he was saying. Literature without poststructuralism today is incomplete. A department that has had the presence of one strong academic in that regard in the Nigerian context is a great department.
It is equally not clear how the Department of Political Science in BUK got its great name. It hasn’t got the 20-carat Marxists that ABU, Zaria could boast of in the days gone by. There is an Attahiru Jega there, well known outside BUK since he led the ASUU insurrection in the early 1990s but Jega is not an intemperate Marxist. In fact, it was Jega who said as early as 1997 that if one looked again at most of the theses written across Nigerian universities in the hey days of Marxist theorizing, they were very likely to be found to be extremely class-centric and too deterministic in conclusions. There were few scholars in Nigeria ready to make such statement as at then and he made this statement in the presence of all the biggies in Nigerian Social/Political Science then and even now – Jimmy Adesina, Ogban Iyang, Sam Egwu, Jibrin Ibrahim, Akin Oyebode, Rotimi Suberu and who again.
There are many hardworking academics in the department, many of whom are not known beyond the school. But, it is two academics in the department who have successfully appropriated everything and became the signifiers. It is debatable but it would be difficult to successfully take it away from Ibrahim Muazzam and Muazu Mohammed Yusif, aka MMY. How they did it might await a serious thesis but it would be recalled that Yakubu Aliyu, a BUK veteran himself once said that MMY, for instance, is a born teacher. It is hardly a contestable claim. But they also earned their place in the annals of academia beyond teaching practice. They also became confidantes of students. They were the sort of teachers students could also confide in without any fear of being ‘punished’ one way or the other. The question is if they have reproduced themselves. Muazzam has retired now. Very soon, Prof Bawa Gusau, Attahiru Jega and MMY, amongst others, would follow.
So much have taken place in BUK in the past two decades and new departments might have become more fortified beyond English and Political Science. Political Science in BUK, for instance, hasn’t got a single scholar of the ‘critical turn’. This is though the situation across much of Nigerian universities. Can the subalterns then speak up through their students, journals and related activities as Mass Communications has done by seizing the high ground at the panel session in question? History Department in BUK is likely to speak up. It has ever been a star studded Department, what with the likes of Murray Last, (now at the University College London – UCL), Philip Shea, Paul Lubeck, (now at the School of Advanced and International Studies, (SAIS) in John Hopkins University in the US) and Prof Dahiru Yahya, amongst others.
The paper presenters at the panel session did argue back or had to offer a response. Briefly, they jointly argue that it is from within the same online newspaper industry which manifested the terrible things being mentioned that have also manifested quite a number of great things too. So, looking at only the ‘bad’ without looking at the ‘good’ is a problematic narrative. No online newspaper that wants to survive can set out to specialize in publishing falsehood. Readers should not forget that people do not consume media messages the same way they consume rice or milk. Rather, meaning is dialogic and each reader ends up with his or her own meaning of every headline, depending on his or her position in life. As such, excesses in online newspapers could also be argued to be what readers make of it. It was an interesting session and, along with the several other sessions, speaks to the success of the 2019 Kano Social Influencers’ Summit.